Real Estate

Buy the Way: Priced out of the cottage market, this woman bought a condo in Muskoka

A condo in Muskoka. Photo courtesy of Shari Blackburn

The search

Shari Blackburn, a 52-year-old resident of Chatham, Ont., has always had a connection with the outdoors. She spent her childhood swimming on Lake Erie, and as a single mom, she passed on her love of nature to her son, Tim. She’d take him kayaking and hiking, but it was only after she began renting a friend’s cottage in Bracebridge, Ont., that they both developed a fondness for Muskoka. “It was so beautiful and peaceful,” says Shari. “I dreamt of buying a Muskoka cottage by the time I was 50.”

Whenever she made the five-hour drive up from Chatham, Shari would check out local listings. While the average Muskoka cottage sells for approximately $1,000,000, her budget was $350,000. Shari works as an HR manager at Barry Callebaut, a chocolate manufacturer, but she still had a mortgage on her Chatham home and was helping with Tim’s university tuition. “All I really wanted was something I could call my own, with a roof that didn’t leak,” says Shari, with a laugh.

The compromise

After turning 50 in 2018, she’d given up on her dream. Priced out of Muskoka, Shari considered expanding her search to cottages in the Kawarthas or closer to home, “but none of them came close to matching the wonderful Muskoka landscape,” says Shari, “so I decided to get a condo within my budget.” In September 2019, she viewed a two-storey one-bedroom loft-style 862 sq. ft. condo at Muskoka Bay Resort, just outside of Gravenhurst, Ont. The place was adjacent to hiking trails and was only a 15-minute walk from the wharf in downtown Gravenhurst. Better yet, it was listed for $344,900. The following month, she pulled approximately $100,000 in equity from her house to buy the condo for $330,000.

The silver lining

A woman sitting on her condo balcony.
Photo courtesy of Shari Blackburn

Condo owners are required to sign up for a resort membership that costs about $3,000 annually, but includes access to a gym, steam room, and several pools. Shari pays $208 in monthly fees to the resort, which covers exterior maintenance. “When you arrive there and that work is all done for you, it’s amazing.”

To help residents offset costs, the resort offers a rental program. In exchange for 40 per cent of the earnings and a small cleaning fee, the resort lists Shari’s condo when she isn’t using it. All she has to do is schedule dates for when she’ll be at the condo. In October alone, she made approximately $2,000 in profits.

Nowadays, Shari is up at least once a month, and Tim, now 30, joins her occasionally. “Maybe I’ll sell the condo or maybe I’ll retire here, who knows,” says Shari. “For now, I’m just looking forward to the next getaway.”

Owner advice: Reasons to own a condo over a cottage

1. You can invest in real estate on a small budget—if you adjust your expectations

 “I didn’t get my dream place, but by putting my money into a cheaper condo, I still have something to enjoy that I can hopefully make a profit with,” says Shari.

2. You don’t have to worry about maintenance and upkeep 

“I didn’t want to buy something that meant more work and less time to relax,” says Shari. Her monthly condo fees cover landscaping, grass cutting, and snow removal. And since she’s a resort resident, Shari can rest assured someone is keeping an eye on the place when she’s not there.

3. Condos offer flexibility

“Cottages are mostly more secluded, which does have its advantages,” says Shari. “But I’m the type of person who likes having the option to go to the gym, get a drink at a bar, or stay in for the night.” Shari can also work from her condo because it has reliable internet, not always a given in cottage country.

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